Meet The Noctua NH-C12P CPU Cooler

Noctua NH-C12P

We were first introduced to Noctua back in February of this year when they sent us their NH-U12P CPU Cooler. They promptly had our attention with their very well performing air cooler that was, for all intense purposes, a silent active air cooler. In a departure from what can be called the norm for performance coolers, Noctua changed from the upright U shape tower heat pipe design to a C shape down draft design, also increasing the number of heat pipes to a total of 6. First, let's take a quick look at the features and specifications for the NH-C12P.


NH-C12P Specifications

  • CPU Application: Intel all frequencies, AMD all frequencies
  • Dimensions (with fan) HxWxD: 114x126x152 mm
  • Dimensions (without fan) HxWxD: 91x126x152 mm
  • Weight (without fan): 550 g
  • Weight (with fan): 730 g
  • Material:
  • Fan compatibility 120x120x25mm / 120x120x38mm
  • Scope of Delivery
  • Warranty 6 Years
  • Fan specifications

    After looking at the features we noticed that the new Noctua NH-C12P uses the same fan that the Noctua NH-U12P CPU cooler uses. The fan that both coolers have in common is the NF-P12, which is a great 120mm that has a low acoustical noise level and decent airflow. Just last week at Computex 2008, Noctua was showing off a new prototype fan called the NF-S12B.  Many wouldn't think that fans can be updated, but Noctua has some slick-looking designs in the works for consumers. Thanks to psycho-acoustic optimizations and Noctua's premium-grade SSO-bearing, the NF-P12 achieves exceptional quietness and long-term stability!

    What's in the Box

    Noctua NH-C12P

    The NH-C12P comes well protected. The box is covered with technical-style drawings of the cooler. This is not just for looks; the drawings provide valuable information such as the over size and motherboard clearance areas.

    Noctua NH-C12P

    Inside, the cooler and accessories are packed in yet another heavy cardboard box.

    Noctua NH-C12P

    Here we can see just how well the cooler is protected in the packing.

    Noctua NH-C12P

    Inside the accessories box we have all the parts and instructions needed to mount the cooler to Intel 775 and AMD AM2 sockets. Noctua now has an adaptor kit that can be purchased separately for Intel Xeon, AMD K8 (754, 939, 940) & Socket F. This kit will also work with the NH-U12P cooler. You can read more about the kit on Noctua’s website.

    Noctua NH-C12P

    In the common parts bag we have the spring clips, the Low Noise Adaptor (L.N.A.) and the Ultra Low Noise Adaptor (U.L.N.A.), NT-H1 thermal paste, silicon sound reduction strips, springs, screws, and the ever-so-important instructions.

    Noctua NH-C12P

    In the Intel hardware we have the stamped steel backing plate, plastic insulator washers, and the retention system parts.

    Noctua NH-C12P

    With a closer look at the Intel backing plate we can see there is a pre-installed foam pad and plastic insulator.

    Noctua NH-C12P

    In the AMD parts bag there is a replacement stamped steel backing plate, spacers, and the retention system hardware.

    Noctua NH-C12P

    Looking closer at the replacement backing plate we can see there is a thin plastic insulator that covers the whole plate.

    A Closer Look at the NH-C12P

    Noctua NH-C12P

    Noctua changed things up a little this time around by going to a down draft style cooler, but in the process they made several improvements. The biggest, and most noticeable, is the reduction of the overall height. The NH-C12P is 2.63 inches or 67mm shorter than its predecessor, the NH-U12P. At an overall height of 4.5 inches or 114mm (with the fan), it can fit in cases that the NH-U12P could never think of, such as desktop mini tower.

    Noctua NH-C12P Side Profile

    Looking from the side of the cooler we can get a good look at the profile. The fin sections over the base are full height running from the base to the top. These fins are also are only touching 4 of the 6 heat pipes. This is to allow access to the retention screws. You may also be looking at the S curve in the heat pipe and thinking why? It not for looks, but function; it allow for clearance of motherboard components up to 1.5 inches or 40mm tall.

    Noctua NH-C12P Front Profile

    Looking from the end we can see the profile of the fins themselves. We can also see that the heat pipe ends are in an arc rather than in line. This is due to the fact that all the heat pipes are identical. Having the pipes all the same causes them to all perform the same.

    Noctua NH-C12P Heatpipes

    Going around to the back side of the cooler we can see the fins are soldered to the pipes.

    Noctua NH-C12P Top

    Looking at the top of the cooler we can get a better look at the sections of fins that were removed to allow access to the mounting area.

    Noctua NH-C12P Base

    Flipping the cooler over, we can get a look at the base. The base has a nice finish, not quite a mirror finish, still rather nice and most importantly, flat.

    Installing the NH-C12P

    Noctua NH-C12P mounting brackets

    I will be installing the NH-C12P on our Intel Core2 Quad test platform. Noctua made a small, but very nice improvement to the SecuFirm mounting system that is worth mentioning. In the previous version the brackets had a tapped hole and when the retaining screw was tightened it came within a couple of millimeters from touching the capacitors around the socket. They have changed it so that the bracket uses threaded stud and barrel nut combination instead. This prevents anything from protruding below the bracket and possibly making contact with motherboard components.

    Noctua NH-C12P insulators

    To start the install you have to prepare the brackets by applying the insulators. In the previous version Noctua used the old tried and true red fiber washers, which was a little annoying to keep in place while installing the brackets. This time they have changed to a small plastic washer with a sticky backing to keep them from sliding around during installation.

    Noctua NH-C12P brackets for horizontal mounting

    Once the brackets are prepped you can install them on the board. Now would be a good time to figure out what way you want the cooler to set. With the brackets installed like in the above image the cooler will set horizontally with the heat pipes running front to back. Installing the cooler this way will allow the down draft of the fan to blow air across most of the components around the socket, but it also prevents you from removing the CPU as the release lever is blocked. If you decide to change or upgrade you CPU down the road you will have to completely tear down the system.

    Noctua NH-C12P brackets for vertical mounting

    Turning everything 90 degrees so the heat pipes now run top to bottom gains access to the CPU. The fans' down draft now cools all of the area around the socket.

    Noctua NH-C12P motherboard clearence

    With the cooler installed in we can see how the NH-C12P fits rather nicely and clears everything with room to spare.

    Noctua NH-C12P horizontal mount

    Looking from the top with the NH-C12P in the horizontal position the front of the cooler comes to where it just covers the first RAM slot. This may be an issue to those with tall RAM or who run an active cooler for their RAM.

    Noctua NH-C12P vertical mount

    Looking from the top with the NH-C12P in the vertical position it opens up the area above the RAM for whatever we want to put there. I think this is way is the best to mount the cooler as it provides the most accessibility to the system.

    The Test System

    The LR Quad Core Test System


    To test the cooler we ran it on our Intel Core 2 Quad test platform, which was then run at default and overclocked settings. As a baseline all coolers will be compared to the stock Intel cooler; we will also compare the NH-C12P to the other recently tested air coolers. All the temperatures were obtained by using Core Temp 0.95 after sitting at idle for 30 minutes and then again under 100% load for 30 minutes. To obtain 100% load, I ran four instances of Super Pi 32m calculation with the affinity of each set to a different core. I used two profiles to test all of the coolers and they are listed below. The room temperature was kept a constant 72 degrees Fahrenheit (22c) for all benchmarking. All of the coolers were tested with Arctic Silver Lumiere as the thermal interface material.

    The rest of the system is as follows

    Profile 1: The Normal User (No Overclocking)

    Profile 2: The Average Enthusiast (Mild Overclocking)

    The Results

    Noctua NH-C12P Temperature chart

    With our test system idling with stock settings the NH-C12P is starting out quite well. With an average temp of 31.25*C, it is running at 13.75*C under stock. With the low noise adaptor installed the cooler seems to be affected very little as there is a 1.5*C difference from full speed and the Ultra Low Noise Adaptor.

    Noctua NH-C12P Temperature chart

    Under load the NH-C12P slipped back in the pack with an average temp of 46.75*C, but a very nice 19*C under stock. Again the NH-C12P did not seem to be affected by the low noise adaptors with only a degree separating low and full speeds.

    Results Continued and Conclusion

    Noctua NH-C12P Temperature chart

    Now with the system overclocked and idling the NH-C12P seems to be way in the back of the pack, but the coolers are just running that closely. There are only 2 degrees separating first and seventh places. The NH-C12P is still 15.75 degrees cooler then stock.

    Noctua NH-C12P Temperature chart

    Under load the overclocked Q6600 starts to strain the NH-C12P with an average temp of 49.5*C with the fan at full power and 51*C with the Ultra Low Noise Adaptor.  The NH-C12P reached a point where most enthusiasts would rather not be with an aftermarket cooler that has an average price tag of $70.


    Noctua NH-C12P Temperature chart

    The new NH-C12P cooler from Noctua is to be considered a high-end air cooler due to its hefty price tag of $70. Unfortunately, the old adage 'you get what you pay for' only partly applies here. The NH-C12P is very well built, and for an air cooler it is very, very quiet. As for the performance side of the cooler, this is where most expect to see their ‘bang for buck’. The cooler did perform close to the level of Noctua’s previous cooler, the NH-U12P, with our test system running at stock settings. This is perfect for those who need an extremely quiet cooler for a small desktop that can’t accommodate the larger tower coolers. As for the enthusiast that wants to push their system for all its worth, no matter what case it lives in, the NH-C12P is not for you. I think this is mainly due to the down draft style cooler. This style of cooler makes it harder, not impossible, to get the heat out of the case.

    I was pleased to see the improvements made to the SecuFrim system; as well as the NH-C12P’s ability to be mounted vertically or horizontally, and yes I did test the cooler both ways and there was less than a degree difference in the temperatures. I also still continue to be impressed by the NF-P12 fans and their dead quiet operation.  Now, if we can get something done about the color.

    Bottom Line: Noctua has provided yet another quality built silent air cooler, but for the price it should perform better on an overclocked system.